The gloves are off

Hayley Jane Atkinson is a family law practitioner based in Brisbane. Today she shares advice on how to reduce the ‘battle’ of separation. You can follow Hayley at her blog.

“That’s it, the gloves are off!”

Image supplied by HJA

Image supplied by HJA

This is such an interesting comment that is so often thrown around in the family law arena. For me, it instantly creates images of couples, whom were once upon a time in love, entering a boxing arena with gloves on as if they have been boxing nicely to start with but still boxing nonetheless. Then you hear the bell.


Suddenly that same couple have morphed into opponents ready to do battle, gloves off style (whatever that means), and engage in fisty cuffs with their ex until one falls battered, bruised and defeated.

(P.S. What a truly simple insight you have just had into the intricacies of my brain!)

Thankfully the reality of such a comment rarely involves any physical altercation. I can assure you; however, that such a scenario can be likened to that of a Family Court process which many families are subjected to on a daily basis. It also shows that many people view separation as an inevitable battle, with hits expected to be exchanged before an ultimate winner is crowned. It is this view, held by many, which leads me to this topic.

The primary reason for engaging a lawyer usually sounds something like this:
“I want to protect myself”
“I do not want to be taken to the cleaners”
“I want everything I am legally entitled to”
“I just want full custody”

What these comments really show is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the process. What does one do when faced with fear? When someone experiences such incredible pain, mistrust and often an element of betrayal and does not know what is around the corner, it is normal (yep, normal), to withdraw and go into defensive mode. It is normal to want the other person to hurt as much as you are hurting.

Just because it is normal, does not mean you need to put on your gloves and start boxing. Nor should you embark on a hunting expedition for every single shred of evidence to support your quest for the almighty truth about your ex. I stumbled across a saying the other day that sums this up perfectly– be a good person, but do not waste time trying to prove it.

So with that in mind, put down the dirty laundry found through excessive Facebook stalking and leave those skeletons in the cupboard. You will soon realise you do not need these things in your life right now. The mud throwing contest you are contemplating, will not make you feel any better in the long term and will certainly not make your pain go away any quicker.

Changing people’s natural response to separation would be a near impossible task and one which is unnecessary. The cycle of grief is normal and a journey you will have to experience. However, whilst the actual separation itself may be a negative event, you can take steps to change you and your partner’s fears and misconceptions about your separation and step away from any “battle”. Here’s how you can “keep the gloves on” so to speak:

1. Allow yourself (and your partner) to feel how you feel
There are no right or wrong feelings so whatever you are feeling, let yourself feel it. Recognise that you are both in a grief process and perhaps at different stages of that process. Now is a good time to write a list of things you will do for yourself when you these feelings kick in. And stick to it!

2. Do not try and find fault in yourself, your partner or your relationship
Sure it can be tempting and maybe easier to point the finger and blame something or someone for the end of your relationship but there is no long term benefit, for you or your former partner, in doing so. Now is a good time to seek professional assistance in coming to terms with the end of your relationship.

3. You (and your partner) are only human
If you slip up on tip #2, do not beat each other up about it and try to not run off to family, friends or solicitors waving the slip up as potential ammunition. Understand that emotions are flying high and things may be said in the heat of the moment. Understand that you will both make mistakes along this path but it is your recovery style that matters most. If you are becoming prone to slip ups, now is a good time to consider how you can prevent future slip ups (see tip #4).

4. Some things are better left unsaid
Try to find a different way to vent – a close friend, your own private journal or even a letter to your partner that is never sent. These can sometimes be enough to stop you from doing or saying something in the heat of the moment.

5. You are unique, and so is your separation
Thanks to a tale from a friend of a friend, there seems to be an instant presumption that this whole separation thing is going to be your worst nightmare. We are suckers for any words of wisdom from our nearest and dearest but the reality is, it is not always in our best interests or even close to the truth or our own circumstances. The trick is to block out unnecessary noise and listen to a few, trusted advisors.

Ultimately, what underpins these tips is a genuine commitment by both parties to use their best endeavours during a really difficult time in their lives whilst moving towards a respectful solution at the same pace.

This is the hallmark of collaborative practice and one which does not involve gloves and boxing rings. This is your family. As soon as people understand the process does not need to involve a battle in proportion to that of David and Goliath, the whole stigma surrounding separation can start to change and the general fear will start to subside.

Until next time,


Have you been through a separation? What advice can you share with our readers?

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